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Monday, March 22, 2010

House Approves Health Care Reform

House Approves Landmark Bill to Extend Health Care to Millions in the New York Times tells the story:

Congress gave final approval on Sunday to legislation that would provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and remake the nation’s health care system along the lines proposed by President Obama.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law by Tuesday. As the various parts of the new health care law come into effect, I think it can only help classroom teachers, as it will help make our students and their families healthier.

Limited Postings This Week

Postings this week on Educators' News will be rather limited. While retired from full-time teaching, I'll be back in the classroom a good bit this week. In my absence, let me offer some of our previous Educators' News feature stories for your perusal:

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Serious Skin Disorder?

Mars surface

Nope, the photo above isn't something to send you screaming to the dermatologist. It's actually "streaks of dark basaltic sand [that] have been carried from below the ice layer to form fan-shaped deposits on top of the seasonal ice" on the surface of Mars. A Burst of Spring on the NASA Image of the Day tells that "Spring has sprung on Mars, bringing with it the disappearance of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) that covers the north polar sand dunes. In spring, the sublimation of the ice (going directly from ice to gas) causes a host of uniquely Martian phenomena."

Odds 'n' Ends

Homegrown Talent Keeps Tech Repairs In-House tells about a school district having its techs certified to do warranty repairs to help finance their 1:1 computing initiative.

Diane Ravitch suggests on her Bridging Differences blog, Try Again, Secretary Duncan, It's Not Too Late. And for good measure, Walt Gardner adds his Open Letter to Arne Duncan.

TrellisDucksAnd despite my statement on Monday that I'd be in the classroom a good bit this week, I spent a good part of my day yesterday hanging string trellis for our peas to climb and watching some newly hatched ducks swim on our pond. It turns out that some bean counter decided to void the previous practice of having a sub certified in special ed in the moderate-severe room where I sub and use in-house subs as a cost cutting measure. For two straight days my subbing assignments that were scheduled over a month ago (the teacher is conducting annual case reviews) have been rather rudely and abruptly cancelled!

Senior Gardening

Friday, March 26, 2010

Made Me Laugh

Deborah Meier gets the "made me laugh" award this week for her suggestion in What Are the Trade-Offs on the Bridging Differences blog:

Suppose we give a high school test to everyone in Congress, with scores listed in rank order and serious penalties—including deselecting the bottom 10 percent?

She was alluding to the Obama/Duncan proposals for turning around the lowest performing schools in America. She added:

Every time we respond to our distrust by wiping out institutions close to ordinary citizens in favor of more distant authorities, we strengthen cynicism and weaken democracy itself.

NAEP Reading Results

Reading results from last spring's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the "nation’s report card," were released this week. From the Nation's Report Card site:

At grade 4, the average reading score in 2009 was unchanged from the score in 2007 but was higher than the scores in other earlier assessment years from 1992 to 2005.

At grade 8, the average reading score in 2009 was one point higher than in 2007 and four points higher than in 1992 but was not consistently higher than in all the assessment years in between.

There was lots of commentary on the results:

Education Week Articles

Education Week seems to have blown past any other news outlet in education coverage this year. With writers like Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier, Stephen Sawchuck, Walt Gardner, and on and on, they are generally on top of any education story or issue worthy of publication. And, they have guest writers.

Paul Kelleher, Murchison professor and chair of the education department at Trinity University in San Antonio, has a great guest commentary currently on Education Week, Is Firing Teachers the Answer? Kelleher shares his experience as a high school principal in developing "a systematic approach to confronting teacher incompetence that involved increasing pressure and sanctions, culminating in dismissal if no improvement was forthcoming." He references the Central Falls "cleaning house" approach, and notes that the encouragement and support by the Obama administration of the action "betrays a lack of appreciation for the value of teacher experience, a myopic view of accountability, and a flawed understanding of how substantive change occurs in public schools."

Alyson Klein's ESEA Renewal Blueprint Faces Legislative Hurdles is an excellent analysis of the current effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind). She quotes Jack Jennings, the president of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, as saying on the prospect of reauthorization this year, "It has a chance of passing, but I don’t think it’s a probability of passing. Teachers’ unions are expressing pretty grave concerns. Republicans aren’t expressing great enthusiasm; they seem to be holding back."

A $99 Tablet Device

Marvell recently announced development of a $99 tablet device, the Moby Tablet. While the rollout for the new device is as yet unspecified, eSchool News reports that Marvell has already "announced a pilot program in partnership with the Washington, D.C., Public Schools, in which the company will donate a Moby tablet to every child in an at-risk school as part of a multi-year program in new media and learning."

Described as a "bold new education initiative" that delivers "always-on, high performance multimedia" and features “live, real-time content, 1080 full HD and 3-D media, and full Flash internet,” the company says the Moby could "eliminate the need for students to buy and carry bound textbooks and an array of other tools."

One can't help making comparisons to Apple's iPad when reading the Moby's product description. The price differential and the Moby's support for Flash content are in stark contrast to Apple's premium pricing and ongoing war with Adobe over Flash. And of course, I've not seen or touched either device, so I'm just going on what I read. Christopher Dawson's iPad in schools? Content controls, DRM, and pricing mean no makes me think that taking a wait-and-see approach on the new tablet devices might be wise for school tech folks. His Marvell Moby Tablet - the Linux factor also adds some caution for folks like me who are enamored by the Moby's price. Engadget's Marvell pitches $99 Moby Tablet as textbook alternative and MaximumPC's World's Biggest Book Publisher Won't Hop on Board with Apple only add to the wisdom of a wait-and-see approach. Well, unless you're one of those schools getting free Moby's. Grin

Teals and Turkeys

Blue-winged teal

A Field Guide...BirdsPeterson's Field Guide...BirdsThe "ducks" I mentioned on Wednesday turned out to be blue-winged teals. After frustrating myself trying to use web sources to identify the birds, I got smart and grabbed our old copy of A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. While our edition is long out of print, the new edition is available on Amazon.

Easier to identify, but a much tougher shot were the 20+ turkeys that worked their way across the field behind our house yesterday morning. When I first noticed them at the far end of the field, they appeared to be a bunch of black dots with two big black dots. When I used our 8x20 monocular that always sits on the windowsill for such occasions, the identity of the two large black dots was immediately apparent, male turkeys strutting their stuff. But it was still a tough shot, even using my "long lens."

Turkeys

Another Turkey, or Maybe Just Sour Grapes

I'd been scheduled since early February to fill in this week for a teacher doing her annual case reviews (ACRs). Over the last year or so, I've become the "regular sub" in a moderate-severe special education classroom, getting to know the students and their exceptionalities pretty well. But the assignments began getting cancelled each night before I was to sub the next day. The only communication I initially received was from a Kelly Services representative that said there was a new directive that the school's in-house subs had to be used for the assignments as a cost cutting measure.

Previously, the building principal supplied the special ed teacher an override code to use with the temp agency that manages substitutes for the Vigo County School Corporation (Terre Haute, IN). Even if a building sub was free, I would still sub in the room! And it turns out that the principal thought that was the case this week.

Turkey of the WeekOver the time I've subbed at the school, I've gotten to know the principal pretty well. The absence of any call or email from her was unusual, considering the circumstances. My wife described it as "downright rude." Only after I removed myself from the school and corporation's sub list, with a brief email of explanation to the teacher and principal, and a bit longer one to Vigo County Schools Superintendent Danny Tanoos, did anyone there realize that they really should have let me know what was going on.

To Danny Tanoos's credit, he does answer his emails. But he, or someone in his office, also makes some pretty bad decisions. While apologetic about the tactless manner of the cancellations, Tanoos defended the decision. Vigo County, like many Indiana school systems, is in a tough financial spot after Governor Mitch Daniels chose to balance the state's budget by cutting support to public schools. Daniels, primping for a run for the Presidency in 2012 as a "fiscal conservative," continues to sit on a $1 billion state surplus.

The Tanoos approved rude treatment of substitutes for the corporation will only come back to haunt him. The temp agency is crying out for subs for the corporation, and downright desperate for licensed special ed subs. So Danny gets my contempt for his penny wise, pound foolish decision and the Educators' News Turkey of the Week award. I would have named it the "Let's Not Do the Right Thing" award, but that's too long for the logo. The Vigo County School Board will probably once again laud his outstanding leadership and cost-cutting measures this spring. Sometime next fall, they'll begin wondering about the corporation's inexplicable inability to field enough subs to cover absences in the corporation.

Local Stuff

I guess if I had to define "local" as used here, it might be as "not national."

Mark Bennett's Illinois legislators eye 4-day week for schools in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star tells of the Illinois House of Representatives passing a bill this week that would give individual school districts the option of setting a four-day week. The sponsor of the bill, Danville Republican Bill Black, "said the proposal simply gives small, rural school districts a way to survive Illinois' fiscal crisis." Bennett tells of one small school district, Jamaica, a community with just 3,000 residents and 400 K-12 students, that is owed $350,000 by the state of Illinois. "As of Wednesday, the state was $782 million behind on its payments to Illinois' 820 school districts, according to the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago."

Moving quite a ways northeast, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Still no education fix relates:

Different does not necessarily mean better, and there’s no definitive evidence that the narrow approach offered by the state or by Duncan is the right fix for every school. No Child Left Behind might be gone, but its inflexibility continues in the reauthorization proposal and in Indiana education law. A better plan is needed.

Have a great weekend!

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